By Nate Rieder
“Hey, stop and save a life with us real quick?” echoed a voice that I barely registered as I biked by, unconsciously yet purposefully avoiding eye contact with the girl to whom it belonged. I didn’t mean to do it: that’s just the way things have become. Of course I value human life. A few minutes to potentially save one are certainly worth it. But the manner in which I am constantly inundated with requests such as these has made me turn a blind eye to the nameless, starving African child who the pretty blonde girl with a Coach bag is standing on the corner of Jefferson and 34th to advocate for. It’s not right, and it’s not fair, but it is the product of various forces that have caused the average American to be blissfully unaware of the strife and plight of others – even when somebody makes an effort to stop and point it out.
Marketing has become so effective, so pervasive, that it has caused many of us to unconsciously block it out entirely for fear of being taken advantage of. From grassroots charities to large-scale corporations, people attempting to further a goal know the specific psychological buttons to press in order to elicit a desired emotion or response. One might think that this could be good or bad depending on whose hands this power is placed in. However, the use of advertising tactics to further one’s cause has become so widespread and commonplace that those being targeted rarely have time to stop and consider whether the person targeting them is trying to exploit them or simply recruit them to help make a difference.
“Hey, stop and save a life with us real quick?” Empathy, compassion, and curiosity are what I should have felt upon hearing these words (albeit maybe with a tinge of ‘that’s kind of a corny tagline’ mixed in). But instead, I didn’t even register the words until I was a good distance away from the cute blonde girl with a Coach bag who spoke them. I was so used to hearing people trying to get my attention and ask me for something on that corner that I went on autopilot. I saw somebody standing there trying to hook me and reel me in, and without even realizing it I averted my eyes and veered away. That’s what you do, right? None of these people actually have worthwhile causes. They’re just bums or insane conspiracy theorists or religious zealots. Or are many of them just regular people trying to help make a difference? At least some of them have to be. Right?
It’s easy to tune out and ignore our surroundings in the fast-paced, cell phone-to-the-ear life that we all lead these days, but it comes with the price of missing out on potentially beneficial opportunities and experiences. So, next time somebody asks me to stop and save a life I’m going to make an effort to pause and listen for a minute so I can make an educated evaluation of whether their plea is worthwhile and act accordingly. Unless of course I have something more important to do…